Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Black History Month

Black History Month?

As a person who’s been in school all his life Black History Month, which draws to a close today, has always been a peculiar time for me. In elementary school, it meant teachers taking time away from Social Studies class to instruct us about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. In junior high school, it meant history teachers taking time to discuss Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. And in high school, it meant history teachers…you get the point. Harriet Tubman and Phyliss Wheatley were thrown in there somewhere, and at some point, some teacher filled us in with this “neat” bit of trivia, Carter G. Woodson started Black History Week.

Later on in life, McDonalds and other conglomerates really got in the mix and offered Black History Month Calendars, or other promotional materials bearing the face of Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. It eventually got to the point where by mid-January I’d see posters advertising Black History Month in stores in my neighborhood and on campus. Black History Month was the time for public television stations to introduce new documentaries, and television shows to premiere their sentimental tales about notable African American firsts or obscure sports and entertainment figures. February was also the month for my friends to joke about “why did we get the shortest month of the year?” or declare that “every month should be black history month.”

However, this year, I could honestly say I did not have a black history month. For the first time since I lived in Haiti I did not attend one event that was specifically designated a Black History Month event. I did not get a free Black History Month gift with my “Value Meal Purchase,” nor did I learn about someone recently uncovered by 20/20 or ESPN. No one came up to me this month and said, “I just saw [insert either Michael Eric Dyson or Cornel West] give a talk, what do you think of him?”

This was not intentional at all and I actually attended other gatherings focusing on the contributions made by Blacks to history, but which for reasons that I do not know the intricacies of, were not promoted as Black history programs.

I haven’t figured out whether to be incensed or indifferent about this occurrence. Should I be concerned or consider it an anomaly? If the djembe drummers tap Black History month in the forest and I’m not there to hear it, is it still Black History Month?

Then again, maybe I’m the only one experiencing this absence.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Spike Lee is 50!

While reading Black Enterprise the other day I saw something that took me by surprise. Spike Lee is 50. BE’s special entertainment issue did a profile on Mr. Shelton J. Lee who’s better known as Spike Lee, and guess what, Spike Lee is 50 years old—or at least he will be on March 20th.

But since I’m a proponent of the New Afrikan birthday system, he’s already 50.

Let that marinate for a second, Spike Lee is 50.

So what you say?

A friend of mine Phil likes to tell this story about when Lee’s movies first appeared in the 80s they were like rock concerts, or rather rap concerts, because previously white movie theatre lines were now teeming with young black moviegoers. When She’s Gotta Have it came out in 1986 The Beastie Boys had people rocking out with Licensed to Ill, we were swooning under Anita Baker’s Rapture, Run DMC was instigating us into Raising Hell, and the Notorious one was Duran Duran not B.I.G.

Public Enemy, the rap group, who Lee was often associated with earlier in his career were signing their first Def Jam contract back in 1986. Now as Chuck D tours college campuses and Flava Flav blurs the line between reality and minstrelsy, Spike Lee instructs us about what really happened with the Levees.

Spike Lee is 50?

As rappers beef between being 80s or 70s babies, make videos about chicken soupin’ it, makin’ it rain, walkin it out, or showcasing how they can get buxom black women to poke it out, Spike Lee turns 50, gives credence to the idea that getting older with dignity beats out fanning the flames of one’s status as a celebrity.

He doesn’t own the Nets or the Knicks, he’s just 50.

Another anecdote: last spring a student in one of my classes was doing a paper on School Daze. Usually when students come into my office to discuss their research papers, I’m good for throwing out a couple of selected readings off the dome. However this time, nothing was coming up. In fact, I had to work to submerge a few smirks and giggles as I thought of the countless hours, dorm rooms, coffee shops, couches and bottles of wine I’ve exhausted with friends over the past twenty years talking that film. These conversations are not documented anywhere else but in fond memories and broken hearts. Spike Lee is 50?

Oh Lee’s films do take and have deserved many of their critical beat downs. He’s been accused of being everything from color-struck to paternalistic, heavy-handed to vain (for his habit of inserting himself as characters in his movies). People will debate for hours whether Girl Six or She Hate Me are perverted, quirky or just outright offensive. More than likely, someone will scream out during any discussion of Lee’s filmography “he got robbed on Malcolm though. That film should’ve won the Oscar.” Was that really fifteen years ago? Is Spike Lee really 50? He is, ain’t he? Spike Lee is 50?

Now that Martin Scorsese has finally won his long-deserved Oscar, and American cinema needs a new legend who has yet to win an Oscar to fawn over, it appears as if Lee is now set to step into the role. He has the long career, the grey hair, ornery personality, and vision that stars flock to regardless of the budget. Now that Spike Lee has turned 50 black cinemaphiles can wait for the glorious day when Lee is feted for his body of work, and not just his latest work. The thought of what kind of film he’ll create to garner this illustrious prize inspires goose bumps. Maybe he’ll do a Thelonious Monk biopic. No, maybe he’ll do a story of a black upper middle-class family whose lives are torn asunder when their eldest son is arrested. I don’t know, but I can’t wait to see it.

Spike Lee is 50….

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Theorizing Blackness

Please drop in next week Thursday for this symposium at the CUNY Graduate Center.

"Theorizing Blackness"

A Symposium:


William E. Cross Jr. Professor of Social Psychology, CUNY Graduate Center

Leith Mullings (Anthropology, Poli Sci) Presidential Professor of Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center

Jerry Watts (English, Sociology, Poli Sci). Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center

Moderator: Ferentz Lafargue, Assistant Professor of Literature Eugene Lang College, The New School for Liberal Arts Thursday

Thursday, March 1, 2007

4:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Martin E. Segal Theatre

The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

365 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10016

(between 34th and 35th Streets)

This event is FREE and open to the public

For more information contact:

212- 817-2076


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A New Crew is Born

Today is a new day at The Nightshift Chronicles. There are nine new contributors joining the blog. Their presence is a blessed occurence, so please keep an out for their postings, and support their ventures both here on The Nightshift Chronicles and elsewhere.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Bastards of the Party

Growing up in NYC I didn't really become familiar with the gang scene in LA until the emergence NWA. And even after they came out, crews like the Decepticons, A.T.C, and the Hollis Crew were fierce and time consuming enough that the Bloods and Crips barely entered my imagination. As I matured and "gangsta rap" and west coast rap artists become more popular so did the Bloods and Crips. The movie Colors also, played a major role in spurring my voyeuristic intrigue about what was really happening over there in LA. When the Stop the Violence and We're All in the Same Gang movements took hold, I was one of the many people asking why are we killing each other, but asking this question from the comfort of my Jamaica Queens home, that was divorced from the gang conflicts in LA. We may have had crews, crack and kingpins in New York, but it's hard for New Yorkers to really fathom the genocide that has been slowly mounting in Los Angeles. Worst of all, we may have mocked our brothers and sisters out west, threw up W's, and shaken our heads as our younger cousins Crip-walked, but for the most part most New Yorkers of my generation were spared the atrocity that our friends in Cali lived through.

New York, as is the case with many urban centers across the country has been infiltrated by Bloods and Crips offshoots in the last decade, a situation that became increasingly prominent during my time away from the city from 1998-2003. When I returned home in 2003, it was unsettling hearing younger cousins talk about friends who professed to being down with the Bloods, and watching news broadcasts of raids occuring in Brooklyn.

When The Game came out in 2005 he professed to put the West Coast back on the map and help set the record straight, and in some ways he did. He's the anti-Ice Cube in the sense that Cube was the gangsta that Amerikkka was not ready for, while Game was the latest in the calvalcade that America has been perversely embracing. With Game's record contract came shoe endorsements, a movie deal, none of which could have materialized without a platinum selling album, and the transposition of the Bloods from the organization that Americans hated and feared to the one that became a common place marker for the expendability of black life, and the indiscriminate nature of consumerist appetites for entertainment.

Now, in 2007, filmmakers Antoine Fuqua and Cle "Bone" Sloan have done what rappers have failed to do in 17years, put LA gangs in their proper context. Bastards of the Party documents two organizations, the Bloods and Crips, that are as American as the Democrats and Republicans, Coke and Pepsi, Yankees and Red Sox, except rather than settle their battles with ballots, bottles or baseballs, they do it with bullets. Bastards of the Party is a narrative about forty years of political disenfranchisement that stretches from the tail end of the Vietnam War to the current war in Iraq, a time period that also features the dramatic historical markers known as the Cold War, Iran-Contra, Apartheid and now Darfur.

It's an incredibly moving experience told through a cinematic lens as eloquently honest as a Morrison novel, and just as brutally vulnerable. Sloan's vision is not that of the outsider, but rather the insider. Like all great narrators he's the soldier that survived the war, the death camp and in return for escaping the grave, he's offered a medium through which to tell his story. Watching the documentary you'll notice that he's not as much offered a medium, but rather called up or haunted upon to bring this story to life.

In a generation that has long lived on the false dreams that Biggie or Tupac may have been the next Malcolm or Martin, Cle Sloan has come along to give us hope yet again, not that these slain civil rights leades will be revived, but instead that someone, somewhere will again show an appreciation for black life. This film asks if not now, when? If not Darfur, Haiti, then how about Compton? If not reform our schools, our streets, then how about our prisons?

I urge everyone to check their local listings to see Bastards of the Party, because as the documentary grimly implies, as each passes, so do the lives of the men and women seeking nothing else except survival.

HBO Viewing Schedule

NYTimes Review

Friday, February 02, 2007

Most Important Draft Pick Ever

While talking about the NBA with my brother the other day it finally dawned on me that the 2003 NBA draft is the most important draft of this decade, and may well have decided the future of some NBA franchises for the next twenty years. In fact, one can make a case that the 2003 draft was more important than the 1984 draft that yielded Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. It remains unclear whether the 2003 draft will produce as many Hall of Famers as the 1984 class, but from a sure business model for many franchises, if not the league as a whole, it will have a far greater impact. The teams with the last two picks in the first round the Phoenix Suns, did better than most of the teams in the middle with their selections of Leandro Barbosa and Josh Howard respectively. The Bulls found a point guard in Kirk Hinrich and with this group the NBA found a nice blend of international and American talent that helped the league make further inroads in the worldwide market, while restoring the interest of fans in the United States.

You must think that I am crazy for saying that there is a more important draft than the one that produced Michael Jordan. And if you think that’s crazy, listen to this, I think Darko Milicic was a more important draft pick for the future of this league, than Michael Jordan.

Blasphemous. I know. But hear me out, I am not suggesting that Darko is a more important player for the history of the league, just a more important draft pick. My brother didn’t buy it either, but I’m still going to try to persuade y’all.

It was amazing to hear Darko blame the Pistons for the setbacks in his career while reading a recent article on him in the NYTimes. In his mind, it’s as if there was no way off of the bench for him. The strange thing about this is that Darko has been a bench player during his entire career. He was on the bench on his club team in Europe, rode the pine for the Pistons, and is now riding the pine for the Orlando Magic. Given that piece of information, it seems ludicrous that an organization would invest upwards of 15million dollars in a player with that resume. Making matters worse, is that he was surrounded by the most talented group of players to be appear in the same draft in years; Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Josh Howard, Kirk Hinrich, TJ Ford, Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw. If you’re keeping count that list includes the league’s current scoring leader, Anthony, a defending championship MVP, Wade, and the reigning most improved player, Diaw.

In hindsight everyone knows that Jordan would go ahead of Hakeem and Bowie, but Bowie was an All-American at Kentucky and were it not for the injuries that derailed his career, he would’ve still been a lottery pick. The comparison to Kwame Brown is also off base because Brown was selected over high school peers Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, neither of whom have become the superstars that Darko’s classmates have become, and in the case of James and Anthony, already were.

If you’re a Pistons fan it must pain you to watch Chris Webber limp up and down that court knowing that your team could’ve easily had a frontline of Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Bosh. Worst of all, it must really hurt to hear Joe Dumars refuse to admit his error.

But none of this really explains why I think Darko might be the most important draft pick in NBA history. There have been other players who did not live up to expectations, and Darko may very well end up being another Raef LaFrentz, who is the player he most reminded me of when I heard about Darko in 2003. However, there has never been a player in the annals of sports so gratuitously mythologized—nor has there ever been an organization to so blatantly fall for that myth. Sure the NFL produces a workout freak every year during its draft, but those players are still often alumni of top football programs, and not semi-pro players off of the street, which is essentially what Darko was when the Pistons drafted him. I’d go a step further and say that Darko was the NBA version of the fake pitcher that Sports Illustrated chronicled in an article in the late 80s who had a 110mph fastball and sundry other skills that were off the charts. In that article SI was poking fun at the cult of baseball scouting and the legendary characteristics often attributed to phenoms. No baseball team was misguided enough to draft that player, but for some reasons, with a wealth of NBA ready talent in their backyard, the Pistons saw fit to travel to the outskirts of Europe to check out the 18 year old seven footer who can run, jump, shoot threes, block shots and chew gum at the same time.

How ironic, that while Darko continues putting up inconsistent nights for the Magic and tries to convince himself that he’s actually an NBA caliber player, the magical 18 year old prototype who the Pistons were fawning over will be making his first all-star start. Although his name isn’t Darko, it’s Chris Bosh.

As of now we should be prepared to measure Darko not by his career output, especially in comparison to his other draft classmates, but to critically consider how deftly he and his agents, and their number one cheerleader at the time ESPN’s Chad Ford, hustled the Pistons into drafting him.

Jordan may have pulled many a magic trick during his NBA career (especially when playing the Knicks), but he could never have pulled off the caper that Darko pulled off on draft night 2003.

The Nightshift Chronicler